- Night Matches
The courts at the Australian Open are playing faster than usual this year. The day matches particularly have featured balls that skid through the court and fly past players. Night matches, according to the players, have been much slower. From now on, all of the remaining matches will be night matches. Novak Djokovic, whose virtuoso defensive play is perhaps the strongest part of his game, will benefit from any slowdown in conditions. The conditions at the Open – slow hard courts – have aided him over the years. If the courts play slower, which they are almost certain to, Djokovic will appreciate the opportunity to hit an extra ball or two into play and, hopefully, draw errors from Federer.
- Djokovic’s Favorite Slam
Before his break out year in 2011, Djokovic was an underachieving player on the game’s biggest stages. He was full of talent, but had won only a single grand slam title. That lone title, was the Australian Open of 2008. Djokovic has since gone on to hone his game and win four more titles at the first grand slam of the year. The consistency with which he has played in Australia is impressive. Since 2008, Djokovic has either won the tournament or fallen in the quarterfinals. He is 5-0 in semifinals; the same stat he holds in finals. The 5 trophies he has lifted at Rod Laver Arena, are a record for any man in the open era. Federer has been consistent at the Open reaching 12 semifinals and winning four titles, but Djokovic is the king down under.
- Returner Extraordinaire
As strong as the Swiss’ serve has been, Djokovic’s returning prowess has forced Federer into dropping his first serve percentage in their recent grand slam clashes. Federer has put in clean performances in 6 of 7 matches in the last two grand slams he contested, only to have the prospect of serving past Djokovic unnerve him in the final. Lightning movement, instinctive shot making, and his unerring ability to read serves have helped Djokovic prevail. In a contest of offense and defense, the psychological onus is on the offense, and putting the pressure of playing more points on an older opponent has helped Djokovic consistently dismantle Federer’s serve-based attacking game in grand slams for the last two years.
- Wimbledon and U.S. Open 2015
Novak Djokovic had a record setting season in 2015. Three grand slams, six Masters 1000s, World Tour Finals for the fourth straight year, and a win loss record of 82-6. Two successive defeats of Federer in the finals of grand slams cemented the season for Djokovic. Conjuring magical shots and forcing Federer to over hit, over serve, and over think, Djokovic found a winning formula. The two are not meeting in a final this time (more on that below), however, the same methods of play will be on display. Federer will look to attack at every opportunity, and Djokovic will try to force Federer into baseline exchanges. In their last two grand slam contests, it is Djokovic who has prevailed and both of these matches were on surfaces that better suit Federer’s game. The psychological advantage will be with the Serb playing on his favorite courts after two close victories.
- Previous AO Semifinals
Federer and Djokovic have met in the semifinals of the Australian Open before and the Serb has always emerged the victor. Not only that, he has beaten the Swiss without the loss of a set. The courts of Melbourne are the Serbs most fruitful hunting ground and the extra time they afford him allow his defensive game to flourish. Djokovic’s current run of finals appearances – it has been more than a year since he lost before the finals of a tournament he entered – should also give Federer pause. Though he has snapped many of Djokovic’s streaks in the past, this is one that he will be hard pressed to halt.
- Best of Five Sets
Novak Djokovic is 29, traditionally the age when grand slam titles become more elusive even for top players. Roger Federer, however, is 34, an age when many players are long retired. The last time that Federer beat Djokovic in a best of five set match was the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2012. Now, almost four years later, it will be an even tougher task for the Swiss as Djokovic’s fitness has, if anything, improved in the intervening years. Federer is still quick around the court, and his endurance has not been tested since 2014 when he went to five sets against Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. Djokovic will like his chances better and better the longer the match goes on. Fit, fresh, and fast as Federer may be, the six year age gap between the two competitors puts the Swiss at a disadvantage if the match goes the distance.
The semifinal pairing is set and a great match awaits. Both men will like their chances and both have reason to worry about the others’ respective skills and strengths. Federer and Djokovic are top competitors, all-time greats of the sport, and opponents who have faced off in an incredible 44 tour level matches. This 45th edition of their rivalry is steeped in history: can Djokovic take the lead in the pair’s head to head for the first time, will Federer continue his march to an 18th grand slam, can Djokovic claim a record 6th Australian Open title? These two champions have been, in terms of form if not ranking points, the undisputed two best players of the last two years, and the possibility of any match between them is mouthwatering. Whoever wins, the contest will be one to watch.